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Lugo v. Astrue

August 18, 2010

ANA M. LUGO, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Margaret A. Nagle United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff filed a Complaint on March 5, 2009, seeking review of the denial by the Social Security Commissioner ("Commissioner") of plaintiff's application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits ("DIB"). On March 27, 2009, the parties consented to proceed before the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). The parties filed a Joint Stipulation on September 28, 2009, in which: plaintiff seeks an order reversing the Commissioner's decision and awarding benefits or, in the alternative, remanding the matter for further administrative proceedings; and defendant seeks an order affirming the Commissioner's decision. The Court has taken the parties' Joint Stipulation under submission without oral argument.

SUMMARY OF ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS

On June 27, 2008, plaintiff filed an application for a period of disability and DIB, alleging an inability to work since April 7, 2008, due to fibromyalgia and depression. (Administrative Record ("A.R.") 28-30, 43.) Plaintiff has past relevant work experience as an electronics assembler. (A.R. 35-37.)

The Commissioner denied plaintiff's application initially. (A.R. 21-25.) On September 8, 2008, plaintiff filed a Request for Hearing before an administrative law judge, but waived her right to appear and testify at the hearing.*fn1 (A.R. 26.) Instead, plaintiff requested that a decision be made based on the evidence. (Id.) On October 8, 2008, plaintiff filed a second Request for Hearing before an administrative law judge.*fn2 (A.R. 18.) In the second request, Plaintiff indicated that she wished to appear and testify at a hearing. (Id.) On October 14, 2008, Administrative Law Judge James D. Goodman ("ALJ") denied plaintiff's claims based on the evidence in the record (A.R. 10-15), and the Appeals Council subsequently denied plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision (A.R. 1-3).

SUMMARY OF ADMINISTRATIVE DECISION

The ALJ found that plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since April 7, 2008, the alleged onset date of disability. (A.R. 12.) The ALJ determined that plaintiff has hypertension, controlled, and non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus, which in combination, are severe impairments. (A.R. 12.) The impairments do not meet or equal one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Appendix 1, Subpart P. (A.R. 13.) The ALJ found that plaintiff does not have a severe mental impairment.*fn3 (A.R. 12-13.)

In setting forth plaintiff's residual functional capacity ("RFC"), the ALJ relied on the opinion of a non-examining State agency review physician, who found that plaintiff has no physical limitations. (A.R. 13-14.) The ALJ determined that plaintiff has the RFC to perform a full range of medium work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(c),*fn4 and as a result, she is capable of performing her past relevant work as an electronics assembler. (A.R. 13.)

Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff was not disabled, as defined in the Social Security Act, from April 7, 2008, the alleged onset date, through the date of the decision. (A.R. 14.)

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court reviews the Commissioner's decision to determine whether it is free from legal error and supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007). Substantial evidence is "'such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'" Id. (citation omitted). The "evidence must be more than a mere scintilla but not necessarily a preponderance." Connett v. Barnhart, 340 F.3d 871, 873 (9th Cir. 2003). While inferences from the record can constitute substantial evidence, only those "'reasonably drawn from the record'" will suffice. Widmark v. Barnhart, 454 F.3d 1063, 1066 (9th Cir. 2006) (citation omitted).

Although this Court cannot substitute its discretion for that of the Commissioner, the Court nonetheless must review the record as a whole, "weighing both the evidence that supports and the evidence that detracts from the [Commissioner's] conclusion." Desrosiers v. Sec'y of Health and Human Servs., 846 F.2d 573, 576 (9th Cir. 1988); see also Jones v. Heckler, 760 F.2d 993, 995 (9th Cir. 1985). "The ALJ is responsible for determining credibility, resolving conflicts in medical testimony, and for resolving ambiguities." Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995).

The Court will uphold the Commissioner's decision when the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation. Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005). However, the Court may review only the reasons stated by the ALJ in his decision "and may not affirm the ALJ on a ground upon which he did not rely." Orn, 495 F.3d at 630; see also Connett, 340 F.3d at 874. The Court will not reverse the Commissioner's decision if it is based on harmless error, which exists only when it is "clear from the record that an ALJ's error was 'inconsequential to the ultimate non-disability determination.'" ...


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